Nanaimo Courthouse (News Bulletin file)

Teacher tells B.C. Supreme Court that student was ‘happy’ to watch smudging ceremony in classroom

Case being heard in Nanaimo over indigenous cultural practice in Port Alberni classroom

The teacher accused of forcing one of her students to participate in an indigenous smudging ceremony told B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo that the allegation is a lie.

Candice Servatius, an evangelical Christian, is claiming her daughter’s rights to religious freedom were infringed on when she was forced to participate in a Nuu-chah-nulth smudging ceremony at Port Alberni’s John Howitt Elementary School in September 2015.

Servatius alleges that her daughter expressed a desire to leave the room but was told by her teacher that it would “be rude” to opt out, according to court documents.

RELATED: Student tells Nanaimo courtroom she wasn’t allowed to leave indigenous smudging ceremony

On Nov. 20, Jelena Dyer, who was the teacher when the ceremony took place, was cross-examined by Servatius’s lawyer, Jay Campbell of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

“I take great offence to being accused of coercing a child and being accused of violating a child’s rights. That hurts me to the core,” Dyer said.

She told the court that on the day in question, there were between 29 and 30 students in her class and that when the smudging ceremony occurred, the Nuu-chah-nulth elder explained what was happening and how it was important to her and her people.

“She was actually quite skilled at explaining, I took particular note of that, how she was able to explain every single time, this is what her people believe, ‘our understanding, our knowledge, this is what we believe,’” she said, later adding that it was clearly communicated to everyone in the room that there was no intent to “impress” Nuu-chah-nulth’s beliefs upon the students or adults present.

Dyer said that the closest any of the students would have been to the burning sage was about a metre and that there was “barely” any smoke.

“At no point was there excessive smoke in the room,” she said. “I understand the fire code, we were actually quite concerned that any actual sort of smoke coming from the sage would set off the fire alarm, so we took great care to ensure that there was very, very little smoke coming out.”

During the ceremony, Dyer said Servatius’s daughter didn’t express any concerns, either orally or physically.

“I remember she was sitting in the front row very happy to watch the entire demonstration, enthusiastically,” Dyer said.

Dyer said students were given the opportunity to leave the room during ceremony and that some did, but Servatius’s daughter wasn’t one of them.

“She did not request to leave the room, she was a very quiet student,” Dyer said. “She sat, observed, didn’t say a word. Didn’t say she was upset with me, didn’t communicate [using] body language that she was upset at any time.”

RELATED: ‘Our culture is not a religion,’ indigenous educator tells Nanaimo court in case of smudging at school

Dyer also said she never heard from Servatius’s daughter about the ceremony at all.

“At no point did she get up out of her desk. At no point before, during, or after did she speak to me about the cleansing,” Dyer said.

Servatius is seeking a court-ordered ban on smudging at B.C. public schools. The case has been taking place all week in B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo.







nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com 
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Saanich police are warning residents that rutting season has begun and deer may get their antlers tangled in items left in yards. (Saanich Police Department/Twitter)
Deer with items tangled in antlers spotted in Saanich as rutting season begins

Police, B.C. Conservation Service warn of possibly aggressive bucks through fall

Police will be diverting traffic between Island View Road and Amity Drive from 12 to 1 p.m. Oct. 23. (Google Maps)
Section of Pat Bay Highway closes for Mi’kmaq fishing rights demonstration

Police will be diverting traffic Oct. 23 from noon to 1 p.m between Island View Road and Amity Drive

Oulette the Great Horned owl was spotted alive just days after her mate, Ollie, was found dead from suspected rat poisoning on Oct. 17. (Photo by Cheryl Redhead)
Great Horned owl mate found alive in Cuthbert Holmes Park

Oulette spotted in tree above where male Ollie died of suspected poisoning

Saanich firefighters were called out to Hartland Road on Oct. 21 to help transport a mountain biker with neck and back injuries out of the woods. (Black Press Media file photo)
Patient with neck, back injuries rescued from Saanich bike trails

Saanich firefighters called in to help paramedics with transportation off Mount Work

Saanich South Liberal candidate Rishi Sharma commits to addressing issues at the five-way intersection of Interurban and Wilkinson roads in partnership with the municipality if elected. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich South Liberal candidate commits to improving Interurban/Wilkinson intersection

‘Confusing five-way intersection,’ needs attention, Rishi Sharma says

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
Our Home on 8th, the Port Alberni Shelter that opened in March 2019, has 27 extra ‘extreme weather’ spaces for people who need a place to get out of the cold. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
BC VOTES 2020: Mid-Island candidate plans occupation of shelter to protest homelessness

Graham Hughes says homeless situation a ‘crisis’ in Port Alberni

Parksville’s Jared Huggan won $75,000 playing BC/49. (BCLC/Photo submitted)
Vancouver Island man $75K richer after purchasing winning lottery ticket at Nanaimo Walmart

Parksville’s Huggan plans to purchase electric bike for partner

Actor Ryan Reynolds surprised a Shuswap family with a special birthday message to their son who was worried he’d be alone on his 9th birthday on Nov. 24. (Tiffanie Trudell/Facebook)
Ryan Reynolds text almost gives away Shuswap boy’s birthday surprise

Deadpool actor helps remind eight-year-old Canoe resident he’s not alone

Environment Canada has issued a snowfall advisory for parts of Vancouver Island for Thursday and Friday.(File photo)
Snowfall expected in parts of Vancouver Island this week

Environment Canada has issued a snowfall advisory for north, east and inland Vancouver Island

More and more electric cars are on the road, but one Chevy Bolt owner was shocked to see how much his BC Hydro bill skyrocketed once he started charging the vehicle. (Black Press file photo)
Lower Mainland man sees significant spike in BC Hydro bill after buying electrical vehicle

An increase should be expected, but Brian Chwiendacz experienced a 200-plus per cent hike

Jordan Jay Ward is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant for two counts of manslaughter. Photo supplied
Wanted man from Calgary may be on Vancouver Island

Jordan Jay Ward is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant for two counts of manslaughter

FILE – A voting package for the 2018 electoral reform referendum. Vote-by-mail packages for the 2020 provincial election will look similar, according to information provided by Elections BC. (Katya Slepian - Black Press Media)
POLL: Have you voted yet?

As election day quickly approaches, hundreds of thousands of British Columbians have… Continue reading

Most Read